This is where my story begins, I taught a little boy last year ‘Lewis’ (I have never taught a Lewis so lets just say that’s his name). Lewis like many of the other students has a difficult life, his mother is erratic, scattered and her behaviour at times is questionable. I have overheard the way she speaks to and about Lewis, these are things that would make a grown woman doubt her worth let alone an 8 year old boy. I developed a really positive and strong relationship with Lewis over the year I taught him. Although his behaviour became challenging at times for the most part I was able to assist him in calming down and get back on track. I made sure I took interest in his hobbies, his ‘long winded’ stories and gave him new and fun experiences like trying a passion fruit (something he told me he had tried before, but I knew he hadn’t). Lewis was always one I would go home and talk to my fiancé about, wishing that I could help make a better life for him and break the cycle. Another year came to an end and I said goodbye to my cohort from that year, including Lewis. I had my reservations about him going to the next year level and was advised he should move up with his peers.
This year didn’t start as well for Lewis, he simply didn’t adjust to his new learning area and peers. His behaviour began to escalate quickly to the point where he was becoming unsafe to himself and others around him. Lewis’ hours were decreased to half days, those days where he would come to school were often disrupted due to a having a bad start to the morning and not wanting to go to school. There was the odd day where Lewis was put in my learning area to settle down and ‘help’ the younger students, we would chat and he would help. He on almost every occasion was able to calm down and was quite happy to join in with the activities that my own students were doing. This pattern of Lewis ‘visiting’ became more and more frequent, myself and the other teacher I team teach with were a ‘safe haven’ for young Lewis and our learning area provided a calm, quiet, safe and welcoming place for him. Some mornings were particularly bad for Lewis and he would come to school requesting to come to our learning area rather than his own, of course I didn’t mind at all because I knew he would be calm, happy and safe with us.
One particular morning Lewis came to school unfed, agitated and tired, he had asked to come into our learning community for the morning. Lewis asked to complete jobs and then when he was calm I took him to get breakfast, it was here another staff member asked why he liked being with Miss Graham in the mornings. His response was the following, ‘it is quiet in there and the work is easy’, when he was asked if it had anything to do with myself he said it was because I was nice and happy. I had a giggle and told him to come back to my room when he was ready; he came back happy and full. Unfortunately Lewis had to have a conversation with the principal regarding his behaviour and an incident with another student, Lewis lost it. He swore, threw chairs and lost control of his feelings going from 0-10 in a matter of seconds, we both took Lewis by the hand and walked him back into my learning area where he was still frustrated and angry. (We held his hands because he often runs and tries to leave the school when angry as he has the tendency of ‘fight or flight’). When back into the learning area I asked him if he was feeling better, (still holding his hand) he said no, (I was barely holding his hand now however Lewis still had a firm grip on mine) I asked him if he would like to sit in our ‘chill out space’ to calm down and I offered to sit with him. He liked that idea so we both sat on the floor next to one another, it was at this moment Lewis wriggled next to me so my arm was almost around him like a hug- yes I know this is not something that a ‘teacher should do’ and I would not recommend doing such a thing but how can you move away from a child that simply wants some love and to feel safe. I did not move and we sat like that in the learning area for 15 or so minutes, I sat there thinking this is what Lewis needs in this moment, he receives no love, attention, interest from his mother or family how could I walk away in this moment of need because this isn't what a teacher 'should do'? What is his life going to be like in another 10 years? Until Lewis felt calm and ready to move away we stayed sitting on the floor. Later that day I spoke with a teacher who had witnessed what had happened, she too had said it broke her heart and that he obviously felt comfortable and safe with me because we are constant for him, always there, never changing.
I went home that night with a bundle of mixed emotions, part of me wanting to adopt Lewis (his horrible behaviours all and) simply to give him a better life, I also thought about the fact that teaching is much more than the curriculum, who would ever prepare you for these moments. Lastly I thought about passion fruits, can they really make a difference, and by that I mean with the entire world ‘against’ Lewis can I be the teacher that he looks back and fondly remembers? Can I be the good in the bad of his schooling? The adult that showed genuine interest in him as a person and believed in him? Will he remember the first time he tasted a passion fruit that he now loves?
I know many students touch our lives, come and go, bring smiles to our faces but there are the ones like Lewis that break your heart, make you want to change the world and make you hope that you are not only the best teacher but best person you can be. I think a passion fruit can make a difference...